With belly clinching for food, feet demanding the day be done, and my skin, insisting in accord, that it was not of the humor or mood for getting drenched, I cinched in my backpack’s waist belt and shoulder straps tight against my body and broke into a jog.
Trot. Trot. Trot. Trotting heavily down the hill, squeaky with twelve kilos of clothing, camera and commodities, I ran directly into the front line of storm that had begun to grind its teeth with thunder and hunger for an appetizing little pilgrim hors d’oeuvre.
Picking up momentum with downhill gravity on my side, I felt myself shift into full-speed; jousting aggressively with the bullets of water riding the winds against me. Trees whip-lashing and winds howling, the shouts of the elements in my natural coliseum pumped pain-numbing adrenaline through my body till I felt it slam against the walls of my skin. At that moment, my stride suddenly widened and I recognized the feeling as the same as that instant — while riding a horse –- when the beast beneath pivotally breaks from a canter into a full gallop.
Swoosh. Swoosh. Swoosh. With the added weight pushing me down even faster, there were no more options for foot-breaking; my end options were only wall, fall or the eventual incline assumed to naturally follow the foot of every valley.
Now perhaps only because I fear speed, this plight was particularly liberating for me. So I threw in a few yelps, hoots and hops and in this manner ran swooshing and screaming head-on into the storm.
So a traditional happy ending would have me arriving into the town and stepping foot under shelter the moment the lightning cracked and clouds dumped. And although my pilgrimage was quite the fairy tale, no such convenient pumpkin morphed or prince appeared.
My speed and screams slowed with the gradual incline which, as correctly anticipated, existed at the bottom of the hill, and when I finally did stall I found myself, despite the distance gained, still a quarter dozen kilometers away from my destination.
Lightning flashed. Thunder cracked. And an aggravated wave of rain sounded alarm by way of the leaves and crashed towards me. I actually watched the cement turn black as the footstep of the storm shadowed the street
…and overcame me.
While normally under such circumstances I might have run for the cover of a tree and dug frantically through my pack for my rain pants, poncho, umbrella and waterproof stuff sacks – this time – no such rational urges moved me.
Perhaps the adrenaline was still discretely pumping. Or maybe I just had no idea how close to the cliff of crazy I had been standing. For instead of cursing or worrying or defending or retreating – I unbuckled my backpack, threw it into the middle of the small creek collecting itself in the street, took a heavy seat on my bag, and began to chuckle. The chuckle evolved to a laugh and the laughing to hysterics. I laughed like a maniac. And only when I had finished wiping the tears of surrender-inspired bliss from my eyes did the sweetest idea, like a gift left anonymously on my doorstep, come upon me.
I unzipped the bottom of my pack and stuck a blind and scavenging hand inside – unsure and also curious as to if perhaps my imagination, too, had taken the opportunity to play prank on a girl with ego drenched and guard down.
But there it was. My hand clamped down on that little plastic sack hidden almost a month ago, for exactly this just-in-case moment for which I’d forgotten I had prepared.
The rain, having saturated my hair, formed small rivers down the creases in my face and my eyelashes did the windshield-wiping work for which they were originally designed. But not even these little waterfalls could have drowned my delight with the discovery of my forgotten backpack-buried treasure…
…a single squeeze-packet of Justin’s sinfully cinnamon nut butter.
Now I could conclude this tale with a chapter telling about how when I finally showed up in town, I found that all the pilgrim hostels had closed for the season. And I could share the story of how I wandered around, wet, hungry and exhausted, until the owner of one of the extravagant hotels took me in and let me sleep in the attic solidifying into my memory one of the purest and sweetest acts of kindness I encountered on my pilgrimage.
But there’s no peanut butter in that conclusion.
So instead, I close not with a traditional happy ending, but with an alternative happy ending; with the picture of a sopping wet girl, cheeks streaked with the tears of peaceful surrender mixed with the sweat of her captor, humbly subjugated by an element of the divine, sucking on a squeeze packet in the middle of the street in the middle of a storm, with not a single urge to seek retreat or shelter — from one of the most powerful drenches of Presence — she has ever experienced in her life.
(But the point of this peanut-theme is still to get to Senegal, and — thanks for your patience — we’re almost there…)